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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Indonesia Covid: Slow start as Bali re-opens to foreign tourists


The much anticipated re-opening of Indonesia’s famed tourist island Bali has seen a slow start, with no international flights scheduled.

Fully vaccinated visitors from 19 countries, including China, India, and France, can enter Bali as of Thursday. The United Kingdom is not on the list.

Visitors must, however, first serve a five-day quarantine in a hotel.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials closed the international airport in April of last year.

Indonesia became the epicentre of Covid in Asia in July, but daily cases have since decreased significantly.

The tourism industry is now hoping that some of the 6 million foreign visitors who visited the island in 2019, prior to the pandemic, will return.

According to health ministry data, the island has one of the highest vaccination rates in Indonesia, with more than 82 percent fully vaccinated.

However, no international flights were scheduled to land at Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport on Thursday or Friday, according to flight tracking website Flightradar24.

“I Gusti Ngurah Rai Bali Airport has yet to receive an international flight slot request, whether for a flight to or from Bali. However, according to instructions from the national COVID-19 task force, Bali is now an entry point for international flights to Indonesia “Taufan Yudhistira, the airport’s spokesperson, told Reuters.

Officials only released the complete list of countries on Wednesday evening, but they expect hotel and flight bookings to increase over time.

There were also reports that specifics about the re-opening, such as visa requirements, were scarce.

‘Burden for tourists’

Hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-oriented businesses have been preparing for the re-opening.

“This is very good news, and it looks very promising to revive the economy in Bali,” Asih Wesika, deputy chair of the Indonesian Entrepreneurs Association (Apindo) in Bali, told BBC News Indonesian earlier this week.

However, he was concerned that the quarantine requirement would be a “burden for tourists” and turn off many visitors. Most visitors, such as the Chinese, who made up the second highest number of tourists prior to the pandemic, only stay in Bali for a few days.

Bali’s move to reopen comes as several rival tourist destinations in South East Asia relax entry restrictions

“Now that they are required to be quarantined and must bear the cost on their own,” he explained, “this becomes an even more expensive vacation cost.”

I Putu Astawa, the head of the Bali tourism office, told BBC News Indonesian that the Covid situation was still “dynamic.” “If there is a new variant, we must be cautious while we assess further developments,” he said.

However, he stated that the government was considering shortening the quarantine period to three days, and eventually eliminating the quarantine requirement entirely.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Norway are among the 19 countries.

Officials stated that they chose countries deemed low-risk by the WHO, with few positive Covid cases.

Australia, which accounted for the majority of Bali’s visitors prior to the pandemic, was conspicuously absent from the list. Another wave of infections is currently sweeping the country.

Bali’s decision to reopen coincides with the relaxation of travel restrictions for foreigners in several rival tourist destinations in South East Asia.

Since earlier this year the Thai island of Phuket has been welcoming fully vaccinated travellers from any country, and from 1 November travellers from certain countries will no longer need to serve quarantine.

Vietnam is also planning to open up its tourist island of Phu Quoc in November to fully vaccinated foreign tourists.

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